In the nearly four decades since I entered law school, I have seen several waves of automotive defects leading to massive recalls and liability claims. The first that caught my attention was the Ford Pinto, designed with a protruding bolt positioned to pierce the gas tank upon rear impact. Ford knew of the problem but made a cost-benefit analysis that it would be cheaper to settle the predicted number of death claims for incinerated occupants than to fix it.General Motors Building

The latest major automotive defect in the news is a GM ignition switch defect. General Motors has just recalled another 3 million automobiles, making the total number of recalled vehicles for the year about 10 million.

GM has been under heavy scrutiny this year for its botched recall of millions of vehicles with an ignition switch problem that they knew about for 10 years. The Department of Justice, Congress, and federal auto regulators are currently investigating the decade-long delay. My friend, Lance Cooper, took the lid off this cover-up through use of thorough and sifting discovery. Of course, now major corporations want to limit civil discovery in federal courts to prevent lawyers for injured people from every being able to discover their cover-ups in the future.

Much like the previous recall, GM is claiming that because a majority of the cars recalled were built before the company’s 2009 bankruptcy they should not be held liable due to the fact they are somehow a “different” company.

The latest recall applies to 2.7 million cars with a wiring problem that has been tied to at least 13 accidents, two injuries, but no deaths. The vehicles include 2004-2012 Chevy Malibu, the 2004-2007 Chevy Malibu Maxx, the 2005-2010 Pontiac G6, as well as 2007-2010 Saturn Auras.

The wiring problem could cause brake lamps to fail when the brakes are applied, or to light up when the brakes are not engaged, the company said. Cruise control, traction control, electronic stability control and panic braking assist operation can also be disabled.

The company issues a service bulletin to dealership in 2008 about the flaw, but it never ordered a recall. The ignition switch recall, which has been tied to at least 13 deaths, also started out as a service bulletin.

GM is now in the midst of overhauling its safety analysis team and has pledged to be more responsive when it discovers defect. The company described the newest recall as an “outgrowth of its new responsiveness.”

“Customer safety is at the heart of how GM designs and produces vehicles, and these announcements are examples of two ways we are putting that into practice,” said Jeff Boyer, vice president of GM global vehicle safety, in a statement. “We have redoubled our efforts to expedite and resolve current reviews in process and also have identified and analyzed recent vehicle issues which require action. These are examples of our focus to surface issues quickly and promptly take necessary actions in the best interest of our customers.”

The company also recalled:

  • 477 units of the 2014-15 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, and a few of the brand new 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV to fix a for a tie-rod defect that could lead to a crash. With this condition, the tie rod can separate from the steering rack and a crash could occur without prior warning. The company is asking owners of these new vehicles to have them taken by flatbed to their dealer, where the inner tie rods will be inspected for correct torque, and, if necessary, the steering gear will be replaced.
  • 140,067 Chevrolet Malibus with 2.5-liter engines from the 2014 model year for an software issue that could cause the vehicles’ hydraulic brake boost system to be disabled, making it more difficult to stop the vehicle. The company said it was aware of four crashes but they may not be connected to the defect.
  • 111,889 Chevrolet Corvettes from the 2005-07 model years that could lose low-beam headlamps after the automaker received several hundred complaints. The company said 2008-13 model-year Corvettes would also be fixed. The issue has not been blamed for any crashes, injuries or deaths.
  • 19,225 Cadillac CTS 2013-14 models for windshield wiper failures


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Photo of Ken Shigley Ken Shigley

Ken Shigley, senior counsel at Johnson & Ward, is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12). He was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (Civil Trial Advocacy, Civil Pretrial Advocacy…

Ken Shigley, senior counsel at Johnson & Ward, is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12). He was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (Civil Trial Advocacy, Civil Pretrial Advocacy, and Truck Accident Law). In 2019, he received the Traditions of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement. Mr. Shigley was the lead author of eleven editions of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice (Thomson Reuters, 2010-21). He graduated from Furman University and Emory University Law School, and completed certification courses in trial practice, negotiation and mediation at Harvard Law School.